Boston’s Brandon Carlo, 25, congratulates goaltender Jaroslav Halak as teammates celebrate their victory over the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals Saturday in Toronto. The Bruins lead the series, 2-1. Chris Young/The Canadian Press via the Associated Press

The Bruins must win 14 more games to attain their goal of winning the Stanley Cup, and that quest was made even more difficult with the news that No. 1 goalie Tuukka Rask decided to opt out of the bubble. That fact is not up for debate.

But on Saturday afternoon, the rest of the Bruins who chose to remain in Toronto put on full display of the mettle that has made this team a Cup contender for much of the last decade.

Taking on a young, surging Carolina Hurricane team that appeared to be sniffing blood in the water at the start of Game 3 on Saturday, the Bruins veterans seized control at the start of the second period, and except for one near-fatal mistake by their new No. 1 goalie, Jaroslav Halak, they refused to let go of it, winning 3-1 and taking a 2-1 series lead.

It was an eventful day, to be sure. Coach Bruce Cassidy learned of Rask’s decision from GM Don Sweeney, and the players were informed just before they boarded their bus for the short ride to Scotiabank Arena. Already without the injured David Pastrnak, their prospects did not look great.

Throw in the fact that each and every player – whether they’d want to admit it or not – surely has the conflicting thought somewhere in the back of their minds that they, too, could be enjoying the comforts of home very soon with a few more losses, and it would not have been a shock if this game went the other way.

But the Bruins pushed back against the foreboding tide and let it be known they weren’t about to go under. Teams often rally in the playoffs after they’ve suffered a key injury, but this is a different situation, with Rask’s motivation to be home with his family – including his infant daughter – greater than that of chasing that elusive Stanley Cup. Whether or not Rask’s departure and Halak’s elevation can have the same galvanizing effect as a player going out on his shield remains to be seen. But it at least it looked like it did on Saturday.

“It could, it very well could,” said Cassidy. “Jaro is a popular guy and they know his abilities. You know now it could be his turn to have a nice run.

“I think it’s in the back of everyone’s mind, if we want to reach our goals we’re going to need a
goaltender in there to help us get there. No team gets there without solid goaltending. So maybe this is Jaro’s year. Tuukka had a great run last year. So that’s certainly something we can rally around. But by the same token, it wasn’t going to be the end of the world to have Jaro in there. You know, we wish Tuukka well with his family, but you know we were here to take care of business today and again on Monday.”

Halak’s teammates needed to rally around him in the third period when he made a blooper reel mistake. Halak (29 saves) had been very good to that point, but the Bruins were forced onto the penalty kill by an Anders Bjork tripping penalty. They were absolutely smothering the Canes’ power play when Halak, a good puck handler, played a dump-in behind his net. With Charlie McAvoy standing to his right and representing the prudent play, Halak instead tried to fling it down the center of the ice. It went right to Nino Niederreiter, who put it into the empty net for an easy goal.

That could have knocked the Bruins off the tracks, but they refused to let it happen.

“Right away on the bench, Brad Marchand stands up (and said), ‘hey, that’s not going to hurt us, we’re fine, we’re playing well,’ “ said Cassidy. “The whole bench was like that. I think there was no collective letdown like, ‘oh boy here it comes.’ We know we’re playing our game from the second period on.”

Where the Bruins go from here is anyone’s guess. Before the playoff began, the club’s belief was that they were going to need both of their goalies. Now one is gone, leaving behind Halak. The other goalies on the roster are Dan Vladar (zero NHL games), who was the backup in Game 3, and Max Lagace (17 NHL games). Halak, one of the smaller goaltenders by today’s standards, commented on the heat and humidity and looked like he’d been through a grind. It’s going to be a challenge getting out of this series, let alone winning the Cup.

And what will become of Rask after this? Every Bruins player interviewed Saturday expressed support for him. And who’s to challenge how he may have been struggling mentally and emotionally in the bubble, or how his young family was dealing with pandemic life without him?

“We are here as one family. There are obviously more important things in life than hockey,” said Halak.

On Saturday, the Bruins didn’t need Rask. Will they feel the same way when they do? And as you might expect, the ‘trade-him-right-bleeping-now’ crowd was out in full force on social media. He’s got one more year on his contract. Even if Sweeney was inclined to trade him – and he gave no indication of that Saturday – it would be a tough deal to pull off.

Despite his longstanding success, Rask has taken a ton of heat for not winning a Cup as a starter, but he’s a master of rising above it all, to the point where you wonder if he’s simply oblivious to it all. But he’ll have a hard time remaining deaf to the barbs that will be coming his way.

That, however, is a story for another day. The story on Saturday was that he left a hell of a team behind him in Toronto.


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